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More House Chat Reader Tips - Oct 2005

sheilatorres's picture

How do you make a renovation less stressful?


Readers sent in many suggestions for making it through a renovation with sanity intact. You can read some of these tips in the September/October issue, in House Chat, pages 10–12.  Even more tips are offered below. Please add yours by clicking on “reply”—we’d all love to read them.


Diana Osborn, Johnson, Vt.

  • To avoid disappointment later, experiment with reckless abandon while you can. Try out paint colors on anything that will be replaced or covered later.


  • Create or find 3-D visuals so you know exactly the size of the window seat you are imagining or how it will feel to have the sink in that new spot. Use cardboard to block out furniture or walls, large white paper for windows, and fabric remnants for draperies. 

Jane Nicholson, Ottawa, Ont., Canada

  • I write a “scope of work” for the project and give a copy to the architect (if I am using one) and the contractor. I start with a short paragraph that defines the goal of the project. Then I make two sections—Exterior Work and Interior Work. The Exterior section lists all the things that have to be done to the building envelope. The Interior section is divided into systems (such as heating and electrical) and the rooms themselves, noting all the tasks that have to be done in each room. As the project progresses, we can all check off or add on to the Scope of Work and we all know where we are.

Taneise Cook, Grand Prairie, Tex.

  • Hire the right people. Check the Better Business Bureau and references. You don’t want to end up on Judge Judy over something that could have been prevented.


  • If you hire a contractor, make sure you have a clear understanding of exactly what you want. Sketches are always helpful. You don’t have to be a Picasso to draw. A good contractor will have done so much remodeling that he or she will know what you are talking about.

  • Remember to get permits.

Candace Hill, Evanston, Ill.

  • For my kitchen renovation, I created a free-standing file system, with brightly colored file folders that could not be lost or misplaced. I made a file for each of these categories: Floor, Contractor, Cabinets, Tile, Painting Ideas, City Permits, and Appliances. I kept all idea sheets, computer print-outs, phone numbers, receipts, delivery documents, paint and sample chips—everything—in this once accessible file. I referred to it constantly and was able to show my husband all the paperwork, etc. This system was a great timesaver.


  • It helps to have a good friend going through the same life-changing event. My PTA co-president and I had our kitchens done at the same time, and we were constantly shopping together, whining and moaning together, comparing samples and chips, and even picking up dinner for each other—Boston Market rules! The best part is that we didn’t bore each other to death, but instead were continual support and encouragement. I even invented a new saying:  “Those women look like they’ve been cooking without a kitchen.”

Phoebe Plomaritis, Vero Beach, Fla.

  • Be prepared with plenty of savings before even thinking of this venture.
  • Do not expect miracles. If you have children, think again before beginning. You might be better served to keep the project small so that you can hire your own subcontractors and complete one area at a time while living in the home.
  • If you live at home during the renovation, know that homeowners insurance will be easier to acquire and retain.
  • Be available for direct supervision.
  • Patience, in this business, isn’t simply a virtue but rather a necessity (the one key you have for keeping your sanity).
  • Never pester the crew with phone calls. If they’re good, they’re busy.
  • Buy the bible of renovating books and keep it by your side at all times: Renovating Old Houses: Bringing New Life to Vintage Homes by George Nash (The Taunton Press, 2003). I’ve bought at least 10 copies of this book and given it as a gift to each member of my crew.

Edited 8/17/2005 7:23 pm ET by sheilatorres

Edited 8/17/2005 7:23 pm ET by sheilatorres

(post #175768, reply #1 of 2)

We painted the inside of our house going from all white walls to different colors. My partner is very skeptical of change and was very partial to white, so I scanned paint chips and carpet samples and then used them in photo-editing software so he could "see" what it would look like. We avoided any doubts or need to repaint by doing this.

(post #175768, reply #2 of 2)

I am a remodeling contractor and a long-time regular at Breaktime.  (When we re-registered my history was lost, so it looks like I'm new here, but I've been around a loing time.)  I would like to comment on a couple of the printed suggestions, and add one or two from our perspective.

First, hire a contractor that you can trust and that you feel comfortable with.  If you go into a project with suspicion about his ethics and/or construction skills, it will be a disaster.

Most contractors would be very happy to explain what they are doing, and why.  Want to get off on the wrong foot?  Start in with "my brother-in-law is a contractor in another state, and he says you should do it this way...".  Or "that's not how they did it on tv."

Phoebe made a good point in the magazine: inspect before you pay.  But, before you start giving out cash or gifts, talk with the general contractor so it can be coordinated.  And what you think is good work may be barely acceptable, so you don't want to reward that.

Be prepared to do your part.  More thann once I have called to confirm a start date and time, then show up ready to tile the laundry room floor only to discover that the HO has just loaded the washer and the dryer full of clothes.  Or we're going to paint the diningroom, and the HO has made no effort to unload the fine china and very breakable collectibles from the china cabinet that has to be moved. 

Simple things go a long way with contractors.  A jug of cold water in the summer.  Or an invitation to use the bathroom ... most contractors are more comfortable going down to McDonalds, but just hearing the offer shows that the HO is probably a nice person.



"When asked if you can do something, tell'em "Why certainly I can", then get busy and find a way to do it."  T. Roosevelt

"Put your creed in your deed."   Emerson

"When asked if you can do something, tell'em "Why certainly I can", then get busy and find a way to do it."  T. Roosevelt